MIDP alum Eliana Pauca (MIDP ’02) reflects on the promise of cross-cultural ecotourism

I graduated with my MIDP (then called PIDP) in 2002. When I decided to apply to the program, I had about 12 years of experience in various levels of the tourism industry: I was a tour guide in four languages, and the manager of a travel agency and coordinator of ecotourism projects in rural communities. During this time, I realized that the growing tourism industry in Peru had huge potential to become a tool to promote much-needed social and economic development in rural areas. However, I observed that limited knowledge was available to the government about vital issues such as environmental consciousness, ecotourism and sustainable development. I felt a need to become more involved in shaping the direction of the tourism industry and I started to look for study opportunities that would help me to acquire the necessary skills to accomplish my goal.

The MIDP program caught my attention because it was bringing together mid-career professionals from various fields for interdisciplinary training in policy analysis and issues related to sustainable development. The program closely mirrored my goal to become an individual capable of directing the study, evaluation, and application of sustainable development projects that promoted development of native communities and the preservation of their environments.

Today, I am still the manager director at All Ways Travel Titicaca Peru. AWT is a Peruvian local tour operator specializing in cultural exchange tours in the rural communities of the Andean region of Lake Titicaca. Since 2017, we have extended our tour operations to other cities in Peru.

After graduating, I returned to Peru in 2003 and I continued with our business strategy to develop partnerships with native communities to create tourism experiences and products that benefit the interests of business, travelers and local communities alike. Today, with the help of a number of dedicated travelers and local leaders, we are building and implementing libraries, supporting rural schools and distributing much-needed education material and children’s books in many of the villages we visit. We offer training in tourism services such as cooking, lodgment or guiding aiming at putting together educational tours that offer a genuine discovery of indigenous peoples’ lifestyles, dreams, expectations and challenges. This kind of cross-cultural travel experience leaves a long-lasting impression on both locals and travelers.

The MIDP program has made a lasting impact in my career. The study of policy theory, policy analysis, economy foundations of public policy, communities and development, protected areas and tourism development, foundations of strategy, accounting, strategic management, entrepreneurship, philanthropy and not for profit organizations among many other classes, has given me a better understanding and analysis of the delicate interplay between tourism economical expectations and the environment. The ability to take classes at both the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Duke Fuqua School of Business gave me the necessary skills to continue demonstrating that a private business can create good partnerships with native populations and this is fundamental to achieve a tourism product that equitably distributes the benefits of the industry and promotes sustainable development.

As with many international students, I came to the MIDP program with a different cultural and educational background and English was not my mother language. The first semester of graduate studies was specially challenging for me. However, I soon realized that what really matters is the journey of learning and connecting with both fellow students and professors.  Teamwork became crucial to overcome academic difficulties as well as seeking timely advice from professors.  Both peers and professors helped me generously to improve not only my analytical thinking but also basic and important skills such writing and public speaking. Intense class discussions and written essays helped me to acquire, develop and elaborate new ideas that broaden my mind and professional perspective.

For current students, I would recommend taking some classes outside Sanford to complement your learning, which is possible thanks to the flexibility of the MIDP program structure. I took a couple of classes at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and this choice was helpful for my study of the intersection of public policy and business development strategy.

When I applied to the program, my highest goal was to help re-structure the tourism business at the government level. I have not yet reached this goal because I have chosen my family and my business as important priorities. I have used the skills I learned at Duke to create more positive impact in my community through my business. Instead of competing with low prices we have applied a “business differentiation strategy.” By creating educational tours and providing unique cross-cultural experiences to travelers, we are shaping AWT to become a growing and well-respected company. Most importantly, we are demonstrating to other tour operators that promoting the development of native communities and the preservation of their environment brings the desired economic success to all parties and leads the industry to the path of sustainable growth.

Learn more about Eliana’s sustainable tourism company, All Ways Travel:

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